Lessons From This Year’s G7: Gender Inequality, Policy and Participation

by |June 20, 2018

By Mikaela Luttrell Rowland

leymah gbowee speaks at g7 keynote

Leymah Gbowee, executive director of Columbia’s Women, Peace and Security Program and Nobel Prize laureate, speaks at a G7 keynote panel in April with Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau and members of the Gender Equality Advisory Committee. From left to right: Winnie Byanyima, Leymah Gbowee, Christine Whitecross, Melinda Gates, Roberta Jamieson and Prime Minister Trudeau. Photo: Adam Scotti

Much of the media coverage immediately following the G7 Summit focused on trade, tariffs, and Donald Trump.

What has been less talked about, yet is not to be missed, is the way Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau set up this year’s G7 differently—most notably by integrating gender parity as a theme to be considered across all policy issues. Trudeau did this, in part, by creating a 21-person Gender Equality Advisory Council, whose work began six months before this month’s meeting in Charlevoix, and will continue six months after. The council was explicitly charged with offering bold and far reaching recommendations to address gender inequality.

Leymah Gbowee, executive director of the Women, Peace and Security Program and Nobel laureate, serves on the council. She was appointed by Prime Minister Trudeau as the co-chair for the working group entitled “building a more peaceful and secure world”, along with Canadian lieutenant-general Christine Whitecross.

Gbowee reflected on the council process:

“The G7 countries represent the most powerful economies in the world. But when we talk about creating a more peaceful and secure world, we have to talk about re-shaping the systems and processes that have created inequality and division. The wide-ranging agenda of the Gender Equality Advisory Council reflects the reality that the decisions made by governments affect the daily lives of women and girls, and so the voices women and girls must be heard in the places and spaces where political decisions are made – from local communities to the international arena. Now is the time for bold leadership, and turning words into action.”

The council’s final recommendations to the G7 world leaders, released to the public earlier this month, center around six key areas. These include, among others, calling for increased aid investments for women’s rights and gender equality, the need for increased gender parity on boards and leadership positions, and the urging for comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services.

“Now is the time for bold leadership, and turning words into action.”

Many of the recommendations intersect with and inform one another. In April, council members met in Ottawa to reach consensus on core areas for convergence. Gbowee spoke about the importance of expanding understandings of peace and security beyond only war and armed conflict. She argued that a more nuanced understanding of these issues is essential in addressing women’s and girls’ security.

For example, in a keynote panel at a council meeting, Gbowee addressed the relationship between schooling and education. She argued that ensuring girls’ education is not just about providing infrastructure for schools but also about the ways in which lack of clean water, housing insecurity, exposure to violence, and forced migration, for example, all contribute to a girls’ ability to access, and even take up, educational opportunities.

This holistic approach towards gender inequality was echoed by a parallel group called the Women 7 (W7). The W7 worked along side the Gender Equality Advisory Council but gained far less media attention. Also supported also by the Canadian government, the W7 is a collective group of 60 grassroots leaders from feminist organizations in the Global North and Global South. These leaders set forth their own recommendations for what “gender equality” and a feminist future could—and should—look like. More specifically, the W7 collective called for “the world’s most powerful countries to directly engage with those impacted by their decision-making processes, and recognize the multiple and intersecting aspects of identity that play out in women’s lives and experiences—including class, sexual orientation and race.” The W7’s final recommendations articulate specifically how systems of oppression and marginalization in G7 countries and around the world affect the types of policies often made, and what would be needed to do it differently “because it’s 2018.”

One remarkable outcome during the G7 Summit this year was a commitment by some of the countries to invest in increasing girls’ education in emergency contexts. Canada, the European Union, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the World Bank committed $3.8 billion toward this effort, with Canada leading the way and promising $400 million in its own funds.

But perhaps equally significant has been the road to get there, and more importantly, what will potentially follow as women leaders continue to collectively engage on what gender equality looks like through meaningful debate, reflection, and exchange.

Part of the answer, at least as demonstrated in this year’s process in Canada, is that we need to reimagine, and break down siloed conceptualizations of issues like peace, security and even education.

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